The Life-Changing Power of Journaling and Freewriting
Ever sat down in front of a fresh, new notebook with every intention of letting your creativity loose, only to find your mind drawing a complete blank? Greta Solomon explains how we can use journaling as a path to let go of resistance and anxieties.
If you’re new to journaling and freewriting, it can be disconcerting to find that what mostly spills out of your pen are gripes, worries, fears and anger at people, places and things. And if you’ve seen examples of pristine journals on social media, lovingly hand-inked with beautiful lettering, you might feel that your scrawls and scribbles aren’t doing you justice.
However, it’s vital to remember that we can’t ever be truly happy if we ignore or gloss over negative feelings. In fact, the feelings you experience – however raw they may be or however ‘bad’ you might consider them – hold the seeds of your future success and happiness.
So, your journal is supposed to be messy. It’s supposed to be a place for raw emotion. It’s supposed to have coffee or grass stains on it, and not sit dormant in a neatly indexed row at your bedside. You might rip pages out as expressions of feelings you’ve released. And when your dreams are fulfilled, or your anger is vented, you might want to throw the whole journal away and start afresh.
As a spiritual seeker, you’ll know in your bones that creativity heals – and the medical profession is catching up to this. In fact, some branches of the NHS now deliver what they call ‘social prescribing’, where doctors prescribe, for example, poetry, walking or journaling for wellbeing and to alleviate stress and anxiety.
One of my workshops participants, Cinthya, who used journaling to heal from perinatal and postnatal depression, said: “I learned to address my emotions, for example by writing that I felt anxious about work stuff, and acknowledging exactly what I was feeling. Before, I used to carry my emotions with me throughout the day, and maybe even longer. Now, I no longer do this. During my dark depression, journaling was something I looked forward to, so it kept me grounded.” Writing enabled Cinthya to walk though uncomfortable emotions and process them, and in doing so, it brought her happiness.
But all this doesn’t happen overnight. If you’ve had a dam of emotions building over a lifetime it may flood out uncontrollably at first, before it begins to taper off. Then you can see what you’re working with, and you can begin to write for joy and find joy through writing. You may also need to break through mindset blocks and heal from things such as grammar shaming. This is where your self-expression has been stifled due to people criticising, for example, your grammar or spelling. You may find that you need to do creative writing exercises to free you up before you feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing.
I’ve been a professional writer for 19 years, starting off as a magazine journalist. It was during my second staff job at a women’s weekly that I began to feel blocked and creatively stifled. Going freelance and embarking on a four-year creative journey – along with training as a coach, teacher and lyricist – equipped me with a whole toolkit of writing and journaling techniques.
Around 15 years ago when I first started regularly journaling, I wrote a song called The Wilderness Years, because that’s exactly what it felt like – like I was in the wilderness. And those first few years were all about unpacking the past, and lots of hurt and pain that had long been buried. However, a lot of it focused on my frustration of feeling stuck. I needed to leave home, but I didn’t have enough money to rent in London. I also didn’t want to get a full-time job as I wanted to work as a freelance writer and live a creative life.
Journaling gave me the answer and that was to do something completely left-field, which was to get regular work as a tequila girl in London’s bars and clubs. In doing so, I got the cash and confidence to change my life! I only worked as a tequila girl for six months, but that time was transformative. If I hadn’t got quiet and in touch with myself, I never would have done what I considered was a bold and daring move. I simply wouldn’t have the life I have now if I’d remained as stuck and small as I felt at that time. I wouldn’t have had the guts to make a stand for the things I wanted – a life partner, a child, a life filled with love – things that I do have now.
What is your equivalent of going off to work as a tequila girl? What would ‘running off to join the circus’ look like to you? Journaling gives you a safe place to explore alternative lives. It can give you the courage to make unexpected leaps and do things that garner whispers of disapproval but feel intuitively right to you. You become your own guru, and life changes for all the right reasons.